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Good Dog: Studies & Research
Studying Human Behavior in Dog Agility
Sex differences in people’s affiliative behavior

Investigating sex differences in the role of stress and hormones on affiliative behavior by people was the goal of a recent study. For anyone interested in the influence of hormones on behavior, the results are exciting, but it’s the dog angle that’s most noteworthy to me.

The study measured people’s affiliative behavior towards their dogs after victory or defeat in an agility competition. (A qualifying score of 85 or better was considered a victory. Scores below 85 were classified as defeats.) It’s gratifying that the researchers recognized the truly competitive nature of canine agility and its usefulness for studying reactions to victory and defeat. The main finding was that men and women exhibit different patterns of affiliative behavior based on whether they experienced success or failure, but they did not show different amounts of affiliative behavior overall.

One specific finding was that after defeat, women were more affiliative towards their dogs, but that men showed the reverse pattern—more affiliative behavior after victory. Additionally, the higher their cortisol levels (associated with defeat), the more affiliative behavior the women showed, but men responded to higher cortisol levels with lower levels of affiliative behavior. Their conclusion is that affiliative behavior is a sign of shared celebration for men, but of shared consolation for women. (It’s not clear how this impacts people’s relationships with their dogs as that was beyond the scope of this study, but I would LOVE to see further research that explores that question.)

Since the paper is written mainly for scientists concerned with the role of social stressors and hormones on affiliative behavior rather than for people interested in dogs, they had to explain what agility is and make the case that it is truly competitive. They wrote, “As a rule, contestants take these competitions very seriously,”—an obvious understatement.

With their choice to study human affiliative behavior in the context of agility, the authors demonstrated the ever- increasing recognition of the importance of dogs in people’s lives.

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Summer Dog Exercise: Six Ways to Keep Fido Cool and Happy
SPONSORED

The best time of year is late summer –  the weather is its warmest and the days are long. Even though fall is around the corner, many states experience hot weather well into autumn. Take advantage of the gorgeous outdoors now and be active, especially with your dog! While exercise is crucial to your and your pet’s health, it’s important to remember that the soaring temperatures can be harmful and easily lead to overexertion. Your dog doesn’t need as much exercise in hot weather and should be eased into any activity during the summer. Use the Poof Pet Activity Tracker to monitor your dog’s activities and keep your dog smiling and comfortable.

Read on for six tips to keep your furry friend safe, happy, and exercised this year!

1. Become an early bird – or a night owl

If you normally go on your daily walks during the day, it might be time to set your clock back or push it forward to stroll safely. Whether you choose to get up early or stay up late, Fido will appreciate the cooler temperatures when the sun isn’t high overhead.

2. Swim in the lake…or in the kiddie pool!

It may seem like a no-brainer, but water is the perfect solution to hot weather dog exercise. Whether you live by the beach, a gentle river is a walk away, or a lake is within driving distance, getting your pup into cool water is perfect for summer. Simply do an Internet search for dog friendly beaches, lakes, or rivers in your area and get moving!

If a natural water escape isn’t nearby, try setting up a kiddie pool in your yard! This is also a great alternative for dogs who are afraid of deep or shifting water. Ramp up the fun by including water toys like floating frisbees, splash balls, and decoy ducks. Some dogs will even dive for their toys! The Poof Pet Activity Tracker is waterproof do you don’t have to worry about your furry friend jumping in the water.

3. Take to the trees for a shady forest hike

Hiking is a great source of exercise for you and for your pup. If you have any forest trails nearby, the shade can provide a perfect respite from the hot summer sun. Plus, the dirt trails stay cool and ensure that your buddy’s paws won’t get scorched!

4. Wet pup’s belly and paws to keep him cool

If your only option is to exercise when it’s hot, bring a wet, frozen cloth or a bottle of water along. The belly and paws are great areas to dampen and are more effective at keeping your dog cool than his back. Bring along extra water for drinking and a small, collapsible bowl. Remember: if you need a water break, so does your furry family member.

5. Keep an eye out for signs of heat exhaustion

During summertime exercise, one of the most important things to watch for is heat exhaustion in your pet. Excessive panting, lethargy, confusion, and bright red gums and/or tongue are all signs of heat stroke. Additionally, if Spot lies down and refuses to get up, he needs water and a break. Never force a dog to keep going if he exhibits these signs; get him to a shady, cool place to rest and recover.

Bonus: Remember that dogs can get sunburned too! Sunscreen is crucial for dogs with sparse, light colored hair. Baby sunscreen doesn’t contain toxic chemicals and is safe to use on your pets. Just keep away from sunscreen with zinc oxide, as it is deadly to dogs if ingested. 

6. Use the Poof Pet Activity Tracker

Make sure your pup stays on a path to good health by using  Poof Pet Activity Tracker. Use this light weight device to easily monitor your dog’s everyday activity and sleep 24/7. Track your morning (or evening) walks this summer with your pup and see how many calories they burned. Keeping your pet fit and well rested is the best way to ensue your dog is happy and healthy.  Plus share your dog’s activity and photos of your adventures with other Poof Pet Parents.

Bark Readers: Save 40% off the The Poof Pet Activity Tracker with the offer code BARK40.

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder?
Hipcamp can get you and your dog outdoors.

There's nothing better than a weekend camping excursion with your best friend. You get to spend quality time together kayaking, hiking, wagging tails, and barking up (the right) trees. You come back to the city sore, covered in bug bites, and absolutely rejuvenated. But think of the last time you and your dog took a spur of the moment camping trip. It's probably near-impossible to pinpoint. Why? Because America and its puppers suffer from Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD)—the extreme inability to spend time outside because all the campsites are taken.

Everyone loves camping, so campsites on public land often book up to six months in advance. Even if you and you pooch want to connect with nature, you can't. This results in NDD, whose harrowing symptoms include insomnia, restlessness, and browsing nature stock photos online compulsively.

Luckily, a new startup is on the scene to solve America's Nature Deficit Disorder. With 3.5 million users, Hipcamp creates new campsites by unlocking access to beautiful private lands such as nature preserves, farms, and ranches. It's launching all over America to give residents a totally new way to camp, even if it's at the last minute. The best part? Most of its campsites are on land previously inaccessible to the public and waiting to be explored—and pet-friendly, of course! 

Here’s how Hipcamp is getting more pups outside this summer: 

1. Users Can Book Campsites at a Moment's Notice
America's public campgrounds are inaccessible to those who need to book emergency R&R nature time. Hipcamp offers 10,000 private campsites nationwide—and, adding thousands more every month, it’s enabling Americans to opt outside, no matter how last minute. It's the perfect solution for Americans who want to drop everything and go without having to get a pet-sitter; Hipcamp sites are ideal for pets, from rural backcountry camping to glamping where you and your dog can both pamper yourselves. 

2. It Provides Unmatchable Experiences
Here's the ‘hip’ part of each private Hipcamp booking—each offers an awesome experience that goes far beyond traditional camping. Want to explore your own private waterfall, pet baby farm animals, or learn how to harvest grapes with your trusty dog at your side? It's all accessible through Hipcamp. No tent? No problem. Stay in a tent, a yurt, a treehouse, a tiny home, a glamping tent, and more.

3. Each Booking Gives Back to the Land
While frolicking with your pup in nature, you can also be confident that you’re helping sustain it. Each Hipcamp booking allows landowners to share their corner of nature with the world, while generating the income they need to keep the land in their hands. It’s great for the environment and a gift to future generations of nature-lovers—and their animals.

Adventure is out there—and it's waiting for you and your puppy to come explore. Browse Hipcamp listings here, and we'll see you out there!

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Surfboarding in Brazil
Man and dog ride the waves together.
Surfboarding with dogs in Brazil

Brazilian Ivan Moreira remembers the first time his father took him surfing. He was five years old, and they set off from a Rio de Janeiro beach. From that point on, surfing played a major role in his life, just as it did in his father’s.

An only child, Ivan often wished he had a brother with whom to share the joy and excitement of surfing. The longed-for brother never did show up, but years later, Ivan found the companionship he craved in a chocolate Lab.

Bono, named for an Oreo-like chocolate cookie, was a birthday gift for Ivan’s then-wife in 2010. He was, of course, adorable: blue puppy eyes, fluffy ears and a desire to destroy the furniture if given an opportunity. From the first, Ivan took Bono to the beach with him; Ivan spent hours on the surfboard and Bono hung out in the company of Ivan’s friends.

When Bono was three, Ivan decided to trade in his traditional board for a much larger stand-up paddleboard (SUP). That was when Bono took matters into his own paws: he trotted behind Ivan and hopped on board for what would be the first wave ride of many to come. For the dog, the days of watching from shore were over.

In the beginning, the two were frequently knocked down and swept under by the waves. “At first,” says Ivan, “I didn’t really have a plan for how to train Bono to get his balance on the stand-up board. I had heard of dogs doing SUP but never thought that my dog would be one.” Time and persistence helped the pair learn how to synchronize their movements so they could stay upright.

A new era started for Ivan and Bono when Ivan switched back to a large surfboard and invested time and energy in a different type of training. Being able to pop up (jumping from a lying-down position to an upright position) with Bono already onboard was a major challenge, but the two built their confidence as a pair and learned how to recognize and predict one another’s moves.

In a few months, Ivan and Bono were catching waves like pros. After attracting the attention of video producers and potential sponsors, they entered the 2014 Surf Dog Competition in Huntington Beach, Calif., competing in the tandem category.

“I never expected a competition of that magnitude. I was expecting to see just a few dogs having fun on the beach,” Ivan recalls. There are no surf dog competitions in Brazil, which probably explains his notion of what the event involved.

Bono and Ivan won first place. The following year, they returned to Huntington Beach, where they repeated the feat. Once back in Brazil, they were welcomed as heroes, and Bono became the most popular dog in the country; his smiling face appeared on TV shows and in newspapers and ads. Companies were eager to sponsor Bono by providing his food, his baths and his vet care. Recently, a new Brazilian pet accessory and toy brand bought the right to use Bono’s image to promote all its pet gear, including a swimming vest specially developed for him.

Considering that in Brazil there is not a single beach where dogs are officially allowed, Bono’s accomplishment may lead to changes in the way dogs are seen and treated in the country.

This year, Ivan decided to undertake a new challenge and realize an old ambition: to have his name, along with Bono’s, entered in the Guinness Book of World Records by breaking the record for the Longest Stand Up Paddleboard Ride on a River Bore by a Human/Dog Pair. They set the new record in March, when the two traveled 1.05 miles down the Mearim River, on Brazil’s northern coast. “After three minutes on the paddleboard, I started feeling my knees burning, but then I looked back and saw Bono’s face so happy and joyful. I forced myself to persist, no matter what,” says Ivan.

Besides surfing dogs, the use of dogs to cheer up patients in hospitals in Brazil is another new project that Bono is launching in the country, as Ivan and Bono also pay constant visits to kids undergoing cancer treatment, through Casa Ronald MacDonald in Rio de Janeiro. “The kids’ mothers always tell me that when Bono arrives the kids are filled with renovated energy and joy and that they forget about their cancer and treatment side effects,” says Ivan, teary-eyed.

With almost 40,000 followers on Instagram, Ivan hopes to close a deal for a TV series that will highlight his and Bono’s adventures, lifestyle and special bond. He also has been approached about a documentary focusing on his two passions: surfing and his surfing buddy, a five-year-old chocolate Lab named Bono.

Dog's Life: Travel
Exploring Utah’s Red Rock Country with Shelter Dogs
Pound Puppy Hikes
Take a Shelter Dog for a Hike

Red Mountain Resort and Spa in Ivins, Utah, near Snow Canyon State Park and St. George in the southwestern corner of the state, hosts adventure retreats focusing on wellness, healthy meals and exercise. In addition to the list of offerings one might expect— hiking, fitness training, biking, yoga, water workouts, spa treatments and more—this destination resort also provides another option that’s sure to bring joy to a dog-lover’s heart: opportunities for its guests to interact with animals from nearby shelters and rescue groups. 

According to Tracey Welsh, the resort’s general manager, incorporating animals into the program started a few years ago, when the staff noticed that guests who brought their dogs with them were “instant rock stars”; other guests wanted to meet and pet the dogs. About the same time, one of the resort’s hiking guides became the animal control officer at the Ivins Municipal Animal Shelter. The guide-turned-officer had an ambitious goal: turn the facility into a no-kill shelter. Armed with two critical data points— shelter dogs need walks and increased exposure promotes adoptions—the new officer worked with the municipality to overcome liability concerns, and “Pound Puppy Hikes” was born. It didn’t take long for Red Mountain Resort to realize the potential benefits of the program to its guests and weave Pound Puppy Hikes into its wellness offerings.

The shelter, which is only a mile from the resort, determines which dogs are best suited to be hiking companions. The resort transports guests to the shelter, where their guide shares information on shelter history and the no-kill philosophy before they head out— shelter pups in tow—on their hike.

“The biggest problem is that sometimes there aren’t enough dogs,” says Welsh, adding that a few guests will sometimes stay behind to play with the shelter’s cats and kittens. “The program sets us apart,” says Welsh. “Our guests are highly disappointed if the hike doesn’t happen; it’s something people really look forward to.”

The resort also collaborates with a nearby nonprofit that rescues wild mustangs. Guests can visit the ranch, meet and learn how to lead the horses, and “experience a powerful heart-to-heart hug.”

Red Mountain Resort and Spa has always been dog friendly. According to Welsh, most guests who arrive with their own dogs are on their way to another destination, and stay one or two nights. Those who stay longer tend to have smaller dogs not into hiking; the resort makes it possible for the petite pups to safely stay behind while their people do the Pound Puppy Hike. For those who want to get out and about with their dogs, the resort provides information on nearby dog-friendly trails.

Sometimes, with the help of the resort, an Ivins shelter dog finds a new home. Guests have been responsible for about 20 adoptions since the program started in 2009. “We’ve had dogs go as far away as Alaska and Kentucky,” says Welsh. “It’s a delightful problem, to help guests figure out how to get a dog home. We feel so good about the program.” redmountainresort.com

Postscript: Another way to do good for southwestern Utah dogs is to contribute to INKAs (Ivins No Kill Animal Supporters), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that makes it possible for the shelter to maintain a no-kill philosophy by helping pay for various items and services, including veterinary care, food, medications, cages, litter boxes, bedding, harnesses and leashes. inkas4pets.org

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Dogs Make Great Exercise Partners
Helpful tips on shaping up with your dog.
Get Fit Running with a Dog

Frank Wisneski of West Covina, Calif., started smoking when he was 11 years old. When hit by a heart attack at the age of 38, he weighed 215 pounds and had been smoking a pack a day for 27 years. He had a five-year-old daughter and a wife who was eight months pregnant. But it wasn’t until about seven years ago, when his daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, that he knew he had to make changes.

“At the rate I was going, I realized I probably wasn’t going to be around to help my wife take care of her. That’s what pushed me to quit smoking. About six months after that, we got Major, and I’ve been running with him ever since.”

Major, his black Lab, is their service dog and Wisneski’s primary exercise partner, along with the family’s other black Lab and a Malinois. The four-pack runs four to five miles every weekday morning, starting out at 4 am, before Wisneski goes to work On weekends, he and Major hit the trails around a local lake, where the dirt is a bit easier on the joints, running up to 16 miles in a day.

Wisneski, who now weighs 180 pounds and has completed five marathons, gives his dogs full credit for his good health. “Dogs don’t care if it’s raining. Dogs don’t care if it’s cold. Dogs don’t have another meeting to be at or some other obligation. Dogs are the best training partners ever. They just want to spend time with you.

If you’ve got to get up and go run, you’ve always got a partner to go with you.”

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, a certified vet surgeon based in Pennsylvania and author of Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound, completely agrees. “People make up all kinds of excuses not to exercise, but dogs are always ready to go,” he says. Multiple scientific studies have shown that humans and canines derive similar physical, psychological and emotional benefits from exercise.

Zeltzman recommends that dogs of all ages have a complete physical exam before beginning any exercise program. He has a few other pointers as well: Tailor your activity to your dog’s breed, age, personality and health status. Start slow and progressively build endurance. If you and your dog are just starting to exercise, begin with simple walks, which can later morph into more strenuous activities. Read your dog for stress signals during and after exercise, particularly if your dog is a senior. However, age by itself isn’t a disqualifier, Zeltzman says. “Age is not a disease. I see 12-year-olds that act like six-year-olds.”

At the human end of the leash, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults—including those 65 and older who “are generally fit, and have no limiting health conditions”—get 150 minutes per week of moderateintensity exercise, such as brisk walking. These 150 minutes can be broken into 10-minute increments throughout the day. So, taking a break for a quick stroll with the dog is possible for even the busiest among us.

Walking is a great starting point. “You don’t have to run for hours with your dog to benefit,” Zeltzman says. According to the American Council on Exercise, even modest exercise improves circulation, bringing more oxygen to the heart and muscles and decreasing both the risk and severity of many diseases. Like dogs, people need to start slowly and build up the intensity and duration of their walks. Zeltzman suggests that adding variety to an exercise routine will help ward off boredom; switching up the routine can also help avoid a workout plateau. Following are a few of Zeltzman’s suggestions for doing just that.

Stair walking. For a terrific workout that benefits both the cardio system and leg muscles, find a stairwell, either outdoors or indoors. A variety of types of stairs (such as spiral or half-turn stairs) and/or a variety of stair surfaces (wooden, concrete, brick) can add a distraction for the dog that will ultimately build overall confidence. This comes with a caveat, however: many dogs don’t care for open stairs, and they should not be attempted until your dog is a well-seasoned stair climber.

Hiking. Find a trail at a local park and hit the dirt surface. According to Zeltzman, every organ in our bodies benefits from this type of exercise. Add a few obstacles, such as crossing logs and climbing hills, and you’ve engaged even more muscles, built intensity and spiced up the adventure.

Resistance walks. Lakes and beaches are prime territory for this activity, which involves walking in shallow water and/or on dry or wet sand. Dry sand is the more strenuous option; walking in it exhausts muscles pretty quickly.

Fetch. Retrieving can be a great boredom-buster while walking or hiking. However, this doesn’t mean that you get to relax on a stump while your dog fetches the ball or toy. Rather, you’ll be moving quickly, either toward or away from the dog, during retrieves. A Frisbee or a portable ball launcher such as a Chuckit complements exercise routines.

Power walks. Recommended for physically fit humans and canines, power walking provides a thorough workout. The brisk pace interspersed with intervals of jogging or running and/or armpumping doesn’t allow time to stop and sniff. You can also mix it up with squats, fetch or another activity you both enjoy.

Swimming. Taking your dog for a swim is easy on the joints and great for building endurance. Introduce your pup to water slowly, perhaps starting with resistance walks in warm, shallow water. Add a floatable ball and retrieves can be enjoyed by all.

“Dogs are the best for a healthy, active lifestyle. If a dog is by your side, he doesn’t care what he’s doing. And if he gets to smell a park along the way, that’s a good day,” says Wisneski, who credits his canine exercise partners with saving his life every day.

Dog's Life: Humane
Running Buddy Program
Partnership between shelter and local business benefits shelter dogs

“Why run alone when you could have a running buddy? Love dogs? Like to run? Lace up your shoes and join Run Flagstaff as we partner with Second Chance Center for Animals to help exercise and promote shelter pets through a weekly run. You run and Second Chance provides your running buddy! Enjoy a neighborhood jaunt with nine to twelve shelter dogs.”

This announcement in the monthly newsletter from our local running store was proof that life is good. Any combination of my two favorite interests—dogs and running—is sure to make me happy. This program is designed to promote shelter dogs to the community as the dogs gain social experience and get some exercise. Each dog wears a glow-in-the-dark collar and a reflective vest that says “ADOPT ME: SECOND CHANCE”.

Second Chance Center for Animals is eager to help their dogs short term with a great outing, and long term by increasing their chances of adoption. In addition to their training work at the shelter, the Running Buddy program offers the dogs new experiences to meet people in the outside world. Run Flagstaff is owned by a couple who are serious dog lovers. They are guardians to three dogs and are likely at any time to add to their family by adopting another one. I love the collaboration between a local business and a shelter for the good of the dogs.

My sons and I were running buddies last week and had such fun that we signed up to attend again this week. The best news was that so many dogs had been adopted during the past week that they were not able to bring as many dogs as planned to the run. Dogs going to loving homes is always good news, even if it means that we had to take turns running dogs since there was not a dog for everyone despite that being the original plan.

Each of us in my family had a dog who charmed us, but made the event a bit of an adventure. My younger son ran with Boomer who must have some sort of sight hound in him. He was Fast with a capital F. My son got some good sprinting work in, and their love of speed made them a great match. My older son had a dog named Deuce who was extremely strong. He was presumably part freight train, but just as sweet as could be. I ran with Oreo, a very loving mix with black on either side of her face and white in between. Though she prefers her space around other dogs, she is gentle and kind around people, no matter how close they are to her.

While we ran on the path along the main road in Flagstaff, Ariz. (Route 66), many people walking or driving by smiled and asked us questions about the dogs. Seeing polite, well-behaved dogs out in the community is perhaps the best way to remind people that shelters are great places to find great dogs.

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Self-Entertaining Dogs
Dogs who play fetch solo

The world is filled with dogs who love playing fetch more than life itself, but most of them only get to play when a person is also on board. Sadly, there aren’t many people who want to play fetch every waking minute, as some dogs would prefer. For a few clever dogs, that doesn’t matter because they have figured out how to play fetch all by themselves.


Dogs playing fetch are endearing, and especially when they are doing it all on their own. Whether they are taking advantage of the stairs, a grassy hill, the power of a river or a contraption built by people to facilitate their solo endeavor, these dogs can have fun playing with a tennis ball even without a person.

Do you have a dog who plays fetch alone? If so, did you teach your dog to do that or was it something he figured out on his own?

News: Guest Posts
High School Runners Team Up with Shelter Dogs
Hoping to increase adoption rates

Antioch High School (in Northern California) is pairing up their cross country team with dogs from the Antioch Animal Shelter. This past Thursday they launched a practice session of their Panther Tails Program. The group of student athletes ran the one-mile from their school to the shelter to pick up their four-legged teammates and then continued for another 3 miles along the historic downtown area.

The program was the brainchild of the school’s community liaison, Trine Gallegos to foster student community spirit and the adoption of shelter dogs.

She was inspired by another school who was doing this and saw their post on Facebook. She brought the idea to cross-country coach Lisa Cuza and principal Louie Rocha, and they quickly signed on. The students themselves were so excited with the idea that they got their release forms signed in what seemed like record time.

 

So on Thursday (Sept 15) six shelter dogs, volunteers, the head coach, and the runners, set off for their trial run. The dogs sported black and gold bandannas to show “their panther pride.” Everything went smoothly and the students and dogs had great fun. It all worked out so well that next week they’ll be running with 10 dogs!

Let’s hope that not only did these pups get the much needed exercise and time out of the shelter, but the community will cheer on their Panther team by rushing to the shelter and adopting these amazing dogs. Plus, hopefully this idea will spread further—so pass along this great idea to your local shelter or high school.

 

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Blind Ambition
A guide dog goes the distance for her human hiking partner.
A selfie taken while hiking Vermont’s Long Trail, the oldest long-distance trail in the U.S.

For most dogs, a hike in the mountains is an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. But for Tennille, a five-year-old black Labrador from North Carolina, it’s just another day at the office. While other dogs sniff the underbrush and splash through creeks, Tennille is hard at work keeping her owner on the trail, alerting him to obstacles and watching for dangerous wildlife.

If it sounds like Tennille’s hikes are no ordinary walks in the park, it’s because she’s a guide dog and her owner is a professional long-distance hiker who also happens to be blind.

Tennille’s story begins not on a trail in the mountains, but in the California home of Tasha Laubly, a volunteer puppy raiser. Laubly socialized Tennille, taught her basic manners and then, like many a proud parent before her, selflessly sent her baby off to school. That “school” was Guide Dogs for the Blind, and it was there that Tennille would meet Trevor Thomas and the course of her life would change forever.

In 2005, Thomas, a recent law school graduate and self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie, received the devastating news that a rare and incurable autoimmune condition was taking his sight. Eight months after that diagnosis, his vision had diminished to nothing.

To reclaim his independence, Thomas began long-distance hiking. Just 18 months after losing his vision, he became the first blind person to complete a solo thru-hike of the 2,190-mile-long Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine. And that was just the beginning.

Thomas began hiking trails all over the country and found that, while he could navigate the well-traveled Appalachian Trail by himself, if he wanted to take on more remote areas, having a partner was vital. When Thomas’s human hiking partner pulled out of a big hike at the last minute, he decided it was time to get a guide dog.

The search for the right dog and an organization that would work with him was arduous. While dogs have long been used to help the visually impaired regain their independence, training one for the trail was unheard of. When Thomas explained that he wanted a dog he could take on long, solo expeditions in the backcountry, most guide-dog schools balked. They were concerned that a guide dog would not be able to handle the sport’s mental and physical demands.

Then, he put in a call to Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, Calif., and found an organization that was willing to give him and his crazy idea a chance. When the trainers introduced Thomas to high-energy and exceptionally smart Tennille, the bond was instant, which was a good thing. Tennille was the only dog they had who might be able to meet the mental and physical demands of long-distance hiking.

Training a guide dog for backcountry work was unprecedented. There were questions about how she would physically handle the rigors of the trail, whether she could adapt to the unique demands of backcountry work and how she would transition between days on the trail and life in town. When it came to taking a guide dog into the backcountry, it seemed like there were more questions than answers. But Thomas, Tennille and her trainers were willing to give it a shot.

To be Thomas’s eyes on the trail, Tennille not only needed to master all of the skills required of guide dogs in the city but also, had to learn about life in the wild. She was trained to watch for low-hanging branches (she knows how tall Thomas is) and alert him to tripping hazards. If she decides that a situation is too dangerous, she will refuse to move forward. The Lab has also been trained to handle encounters with everything from rattlesnakes to moose, and knows how to look for trail signs and other landmarks.

“I’m the luckiest person around,” Thomas muses when talking about Tennille. “In a world of extraordinary animals, she is exceptional. She is a genius.”

In the three years since they became a team, Thomas and Tennille have covered more than 6,000 miles together, tackling trails all over the United States. With Tennille’s help, Thomas has completed solo hikes on remote, unpopulated trails that were out of his reach before she came along. Having a guide dog has been a game-changer for Thomas, who says that many hikers he meets on the trail don’t realize that he’s blind.

A day on the trail for Thomas and Tennille typically involves covering 13 to 18 miles of rocky and uneven ground. The distance alone is a lot for any dog, but Tennille is also working. She knows that once her backpack (which takes the place of a traditional guide-dog harness) goes on, it’s time to do her job.

As you may expect, this is no spur-of-the-moment operation. Long before Thomas and Tennille set foot on the trail, their hikes have been planned down to the last detail. In the months leading up to a hike, a set of detailed daily instructions is painstakingly created. Thomas uses these notes to tell him things like how far it is between trail junctions and which direction he is supposed to go.

Then, he employs a combination of bat-like echolocation and meticulous tracking of time, speed and cadence to get close to where he needs to be. Tennille takes it from there. She knows how to look for signs and other trail markers that will keep them headed in the right direction.

Thomas is quick to say that, while he holds the leash, Tennille is the boss. In the time they have been hiking together, Tennille has learned what is important, and when she alerts him to danger, he listens. It’s this unwavering trust in one another that has allowed them to take on some of the longest and hardest trails in the country.

In the summer of 2015, Thomas and Tennille conquered one of their toughest challenges yet when they completed a thru-hike of the 600-mile-long Colorado Trail. Traversing some of the tallest mountains in the United States, the two successfully navigated the rugged route that runs between Denver and Durango, summiting 14,440-foot Mt. Elbert along the way. While Tennille excels in the cool Rocky Mountain climate, there was some concern about how she would handle Colorado’s high altitude. But, as with everything else in her life, she was unfazed.

“Ice water runs through her veins,” Thomas replies when asked how his companion is able to handle the demands of long days and tough conditions. He has yet to find a situation that she can’t manage.

As the years and miles have gone by, Tennille’s body has become accustomed to the demands of her job. While many dogs’ pads become sore during long hikes in the backcountry, Tennille’s are as tough as leather. Thomas always carries booties for her, but unless the ground is very hot, she rarely needs them.

Thomas says that getting Tennille was the best decision he’s made since losing his vision. Not only has she greatly expanded the possibilities of what he can do, but also, she has changed how others see him. She’s a powerful icebreaker when it comes to interacting with people both on and off the trail. Thomas believes that Tennille’s friendly face and wagging tail have allowed him to form deeper connections with those he meets who may not know how to engage with a blind person. These connections have been an unexpected benefit of having Tennille along.

When asked what’s up next for the duo, Thomas rattles off a long list of goals. He is constantly on the hunt for new places and different environments in which to challenge himself and Tennille. In the coming years, he hopes to return to the Appalachian Trail, this time with Tennille by his side, and dreams of doing the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim hike. The canyon’s high-desert environment would present a different kind of challenge from the mountains they are used to, but Thomas feels that Tennille will be up to the job.

Thomas’s courage and tenacity are making him somewhat of a celebrity in the hiking world, but he’s quick to point out that it is his dog who should be getting the attention. “I just hold the leash,” he says. “I’d be happy to be known as the guy who’s with Tennille.”

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